Governor’s Panel Supports Maine Human Rights Commission

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

In response to concerns about the Human Rights Commission, Governor LePage, by Executive Order, established the Maine Human Rights Commission Review Panel on October 14, 2015. The Panel issued its Findings on September 27, 2016. The Review Panel consisted of eight members including an attorney who represents respondents before the MHRC, an attorney who represents complainants before the MHRC, a person recommended by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a person recommended by the Maine Apartment Owners and Managers, a person recommended by Pine Tree Legal, a person with working knowledge of and familiarity with best administrative investigative practices and one person recommended by the Maine Human Rights Commission. The purpose of the Review Panel was to conduct a review of the structure and operation of the Maine Human Rights Commission to identify factors which may cause the perception of prejudice against respondents and bias in favor of complainants and to identify rules and practices that are unduly burdensome or unfair and to issue a report with recommendations.

After the Review Panel met thirteen times and did an extensive review of the Commission itself, its rules and regulations and interviewed Commissioners and staff, the Panel “unanimously agreed that the MHRC, its Commissioners and its staff are not actually prejudiced, biased or unfair towards respondents of complainants”. It went on to find that the vast majority of cases were heard or decided in favor of respondents and that there is no evidence that there is a bias or prejudice against either complainants or respondents. The Panel found that the MHRC was “devoted to its mission and desired to be fair and unbiased to all its parties”. The Panel agreed that the powers and duties of the Maine Human Rights Commission under the Maine Human Rights Act should be sufficient, well-staffed, well-funded and well-trained. The Panel made a series of recommendations including:
  1. Hire a management consultant/efficiency expert. 
  2. Hire more investigators to investigate. 
  3. Use intake specialists. 
  4. Increase education and training for MHRC staff and Commissioners. 
  5. Increase number of administrative staff. 
  6. Modernize computer and technology systems. 
  7. Expand mediation program. 
  8. Establish a dual track system and consider changing state law to require 180 days before right to sue letter issued. 
  9. Improve and streamline requests from the MHRC for information, discovery and document requests. 
  10. Increase and improve public relations and outreach. 
  11. Commissioners should be appointed in a timely fashion. 
  12. Filing fees. 
  13. Increase the MHRC’s budget. 
All in all, this report established what the attorneys practicing in this area know to be the case. The Human Rights Commission does the best that it can on a very limited budget and is fair to the parties that appear before it, even though the process takes far too long.